(Repeats with no change in content)
By Arshad Mohammed and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, June 5 The United States will
quietly try to calm the waters between Saudi Arabia and Qatar,
current and former U.S. officials said on Monday, arguing that
the small Gulf state was too important to U.S. military and
diplomatic interests to be isolated.
U.S. officials were blindsided by Saudi Arabia's decision to
sever diplomatic ties with Qatar in a coordinated move with
Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the current and
former officials said.
In announcing the decision to cut ties, Saudi Arabia accused
Qatar of providing support to Shi'ite Iran, which is in a tussle
for regional supremacy with Riyadh, and to Islamist militants.
Washington has many reasons to want to promote comity within
the region. Qatar is host to the largest U.S. air base in the
Middle East at Al Udeid, a staging ground for U.S.-led strikes
on the Islamic State militant group that has seized parts of
Syria and Iraq. U.S. Donald Trump has made defeating Islamic
State a priority of his presidency.
Further, Qatar's willingness to welcome organizations such
as Hamas, which Washington brands a terrorist group, and the
Taliban, which has fought U.S. forces in Afghanistan for more
than 15 years, allows contacts with such groups when needed.
"There is a certain utility," one U.S. official said on
condition of anonymity. "There's got to be a place for us to
meet the Taliban. The Hamas (folks) have to have a place to go
where they can be simultaneously isolated and talked to."
The current and former U.S. officials said they were unable
to identify precisely what may have triggered the four
countries' coordinated decision to cut ties, which was later
followed by Yemen, Libya's eastern-based government and the
They said the Saudis may have felt empowered by the warm
embrace that Trump gave them when he visited Riyadh in May and
adopted a harsh anti-Iran stance.
"My suspicion is (they felt) emboldened by what Trump said
on his visit and ... that they feel they have got some kind of
backing," said a former U.S. official. "I don’t know that they
needed any more of a green light than they got in public."
A senior administration official told Reuters the United
States got no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis in Riyadh
that the action was about to happen. The White House said on
Monday it was committed to working to de-escalate tensions in
In Riyadh, Trump made an impassioned appeal to Arab and
Islamic leaders to "drive out" terrorists, while singling out
Iran as a key source of funding and support for militant groups.
U.S. officials in multiple agencies stressed their desire to
promote a reconciliation between the Saudi-led group and Qatar,
a state of 2.5 million people with vast natural gas reserves.
"We don't want to see some kind of permanent rift and I
suspect we won't," said the senior Trump administration official
on condition of anonymity, adding the United States would send a
representative if the Gulf Cooperation Council nations met to
discuss the rift with Qatar.
The GCC includes six wealthy Arab nations: Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
"There’s an acknowledgement that a lot of Qatari behavior is
quite worrisome not just to our Gulf neighbors but to the U.S.,"
said the senior administration official. "We want to bring them
in the right direction."
Marcelle Wahba, a former U.S. ambassador to the UAE and the
president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington think
tank, said the United States had leverage but would use it
"The U.S. will step up to the plate. How we will do it? I
think it will be very quiet and very much in the background,"
she said. "I doubt very much we will sit on the sidelines and
let this crisis get more serious."
Qatar's backing of Islamists dates to a decision by the
current ruling emir's father to end a tradition of automatic
deference to Saudi Arabia, the dominant Gulf Arab power, and
forge the widest possible array of allies.
Qatar has for years presented itself as a mediator and power
broker for the region's many disputes. But Egypt and the Gulf
Arab states resent Qatar's support for Islamists, especially the
Muslim Brotherhood, which they see as a political enemy.
"We are engaging with all of our partners ... to find a way
to reassemble some GCC unity to support regional security," said
another U.S. official, saying it was critical to "maintain the
fight against terrorism and extremist ideology."
(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy, Mark Hosenball, Phil
Stewart and Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing
by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney)